An incisive sketch of a college freshman negotiating the light-years between campus and home over Easter break, Bradley Rust Gray's The Exploding Girl is a character study of one young woman - and of an entire generation struggling to maintain external maturity despite internal regression.
Zoe Kazan is Ivy, the central figure in this modest feature, home for the holiday and a medical checkup. Matter-of-factly, Ivy discusses her epilepsy with her doctor. It's been five months since her last seizure, prompted by sleeplessness and alcohol. We see how studiously she avoids the behaviors that trigger her condition.
The movie, a series of extended sequences shot in real time, explores her transition from the soft green blur of her drive down from Upstate New York to a Manhattan of harsh gray pavements and discordant sound. The audio design of Gray's film is particularly expressive of Ivy's inner state, and is in marked contrast to the tranquillity of her heart-shaped face.
In great part, the movie is about the tension of Ivy endeavoring to control what she can't control. In smaller part, Gray illustrates the many ways that the devices designed to connect people serve to distance them from each other. As for many people, the cell phone is Ivy's lifeline and umbilical cord. But the halting conversations she has with her boyfriend, Greg, are relationship short-circuits that shudder like her own imperfect neurological circuitry.
The film, which has a soaring sequence of pigeons on a rooftop coop that pays homage to On the Waterfront (directed by Kazan's grandfather, Elia), will appeal to the moviegoer who appreciates nonnarrative cinema. Despite its title, The Exploding Girl is an oddly tranquil experience.